COUD SHOULDER IN FIRST
BIG FILM CONTEST.
RESULTS of the Commonwealth's Film Prize are one
more disappointing feature in the story of tribulation that constitutes the history of the Australian Moving Picture Industry. Almost invariably our producers, fighting to compete with a high foreign standard, are compelled to undertake their task with pathetically small capital. They, have had, in addition, a prejudice to defeat. That they were slowly, but surely, overcoming it is a tribute to the ever-increasing standard of their pictures. Suddenly from that very source which had offered aid
comes an award which, if it were anything, means an
insult to the industry which it was the Government's stated intention to aid.
Arthur Higgins, co-director with Aus- tin Fay of "Fellers." He has been pioneering Australian films for 22 years.
By Neville de Lacy
WHEREVER politics enters
into business, it seems impossible to avoid con
fusion, neglect, and gen eral foolishness. In the
manner of conducting the competition to discover the best Australian-produced film we can see all this illustrated anew.
The competition, has just ended with the amazing announcement
that the Artaus Ltd. film, "Fellers," a part-sound effort dealing with the story of the Light Horse in the Great War, had been adjudged the winner of the competition with the third prize-money as its reward! Why third prize money and not second prize money? Such a ques- tion could only be answered by officialdom or politicians. The plain citizen would be quite unable
to achieve it.
Quite as amazing is the decision of the judges with regard to "The Cheaters," the talkie produced by the McDonagh Sisters, which, in its luxurious settings, expert direc- tion, competent cast, and complete synchronisation, constitutes a box office attraction never previously attempted in Australia. Despite the thousands of pounds spent in the production, and the hard work put in by the plucky pioneer sisters, the Film Censorship Ap- peal Board has falied to award a prize. Again, the plain man, re- membering that the purpose of this competition was to encourage the youthful film industry of the Commonwealth, will have diffi- culty in comprehending the judg-
In his statement to the House of
Representatives in reply to a ques
tion by Mr. Marks, the Minister stated that the Appeal Board con- sidered that only "Fellers" reached qualifying standard with a total of 43 per cent out of the possible 100. The Board therefore recommended that it be awarded the third prize of £1500, subject to proof of satis- factory compliance with the other conditions imposed.
The Government had adopted the recommendation of the Appeal Board and the third award of £1500 will be made to the film "Fellers" subject to proof of satisfactory compliance with the conditions mentioned, and inquiries were at present proceeding with a view to ascertaining if the conditions laid down had been complied with.
"It is disappointing that the Ap- peal Board," he said, "has not con- sidered the films to be of sufficient merit to justify an Award of more than the third prize. No one, how- ever, should be more qualified than the Appeal Board (which is habitu- ally examining and criticising films) to judge of what is a reason- able standard of production, and it can only be hoped that the experi- ence acquired in producing these films may result in a higher stan- dard of production in future."
Now this last-mentioned expres
Jean Duncan, the girl the soldiers dream about. In the background is Headquarters Staff in Palestine,
and below, Joan Milton tends the
Elaine de Chair is shown in the foreground in this, one of the many fine interiors from the McDonagh sisters' film "The Cheaters."
Bessy Pryde, Les Coney, and Joan Milton in a characteristic boarding-house scene from "Fellers."
sion of opinion by the Minister is exceedingly open to question. Even accepting the Film Censor- ship Appeal Board as competent, generally speaking, to judge on the moral aspects of films, it is quite clearly another matter to expect its members to adjudge the value of Australian productions from the many points of view re- quired. There were many aspects
to consider and, no doubt, to the best of their ability, members of
the board attempted to give con- scientious finding, but they appear to have ignored completely the question of. entertainment value. Yet, unless Australian films con- tain this all-important element the industry must cease to function. The Australian market is educated
to a high standard by big im-
ported pictures, and unless locally directed films acquire a similar standard, it is unreason-
able to expect ex-
hibitors to dis-
Again, unless they have a high entertain- ment value, they are useless for export, and the whole profitable
market of the
English - speak- ing world must be closed.
In these cir- cumstances, the board should have declared on the entertain- ment value of the
films submitted, and the fact that it did not leaves c o n s i d e rabie room for doubt that the Minis- ter's high opinion of the worth of the board's judgment is justified.
Particularly in regard to the McDonagh Sisters' production do we find the weakness in the com- petition. For settings, cast, ex- pert direction, and synchronisa- tion, a bare six points were awarded out of a possible 100. In contradistinction, 44 points were awarded for acting and 33 for story, a meagre six points were allowed for photography, and four points for continuity and titling. Now this scale is entirely dispro- portionate. It is obvious from it that the Film Censorship Appeal Board does not realise what are the elements that go to the mak- ing of a successful picture. In America where, when all is said and done, the moving picture in- dustry has reached undreamt-of heights of development, a gold
medal is awarded for the best direction of the year. Yet, in Aus- tralia, direction, which is all im- portant in securing a successful and artistic production that shall be at the same time of a standard attrac- tive for bookings, was brushed
aside as immaterial.
As to the main award that gov- erning "Fellers." . While the
board may be able to justify the
refusal to grant the first prize money, £3000, to Artaus, the
makers of this picture, it is in- conceivable that it can explain why second prize-money, £2500, was not awarded instead of £1500,
the reward for the film placed third. As the position stands, it appears to; be a piece of priceless official parsimony. The public will find it hard to understand why prize-money, totalling £9000, as reward for Australian enterprise, art, and industry, should suddenly become £1500.
It must be admitted that 50 points were stipulated as neces- sary before first prize-money could be awarded, and that "Fellers" was given only 43 points. But it was also stated that 40 points must be obtained before the second or third prize would be qualified for.
"Fellers" received three points more than was necessary to ob- tain second prize-money.
In effect, it means this, that the Film Censorship Appeal Board has said to the producers of "Fellers": "We had to give some- one's film the premier position in the competition, but we think it should be given the lowest pos- sible prize-money, and we cannot help it if picture exhibitors take their cue from our decisions and refuse to buy your film." While those who have seen this film ex
hibited may have discovered many faults in it, due to lack of capital, it is a monstrously unjust thing for a board appointed by a Gov- ernment to foster an Australian
industry to attempt to kill it.
Even more unjust is the treat- ment of the film of the McDonagh Sisters. Undoubtedly this is a line effort, on which neither money nor ideas have been stinted. It is the first legitimate sound, synchron- ised, and part-talkie Australia has produced, and it breaks new ground in this infant industry. The Film Censorship Appeal Board has attempted to damn it by not even admitting it to third prize-money.
If the Commonwealth au-
thorities are really anxious to build up the moving picture industry in Australia, they have proceeded about the initial steps in an extraordinary fashion. Up to date, their efforts appear to be more designed to the diverting of the Commonwealth Government Film Prize towards balancing the Budget.
A remarkably good scene from "Fellers!' a reproduction at Kensington of
a Light Horse camp in Palestine.